"You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.” That’s for the writing poems part." -Frank O’Hara, Personism: A Manifesto // It’s for the cooking part, too.
There’s a roasted caprese I love to make for the family: campari tomatoes stuffed with ciliegine, basil, and topped with seasoned bread crumbs. While I was craving them last weekend, I was also craving sambousak, a buttery, sesame pastry filled with muenster cheese. Lori serves them whenever she cooks a Syrian feast. In fact, it’s how we begin one. While she works the stuffing, I am usually put on sesame seed duty. Dipping and pressing each pastry into a bowl of seeds, then lining them up on a baking sheet and popping them into the oven. The aroma of that moment is what I’m after.
In a perfect world, I would’ve made both. But it’s finally truly warm out and I wanted to fully embrace “less is more” on a Sunday afternoon. The only solution was this: stuffing tomatoes with muenster cheese, leaning more towards Syrian cuisine by using familiar spices, swapping out the basil for parsley, and then topping each tomato with sesame and nigella seeds before they get popped into the oven and, 20 minutes later, right into my mouth.
Guys, I should triple this recipe. I mean, look at that pre-bake and imagine cheese melted, tomatoes fragrant with spices and tasting sweeter, even bolder, than ever. The aroma of toasted seeds fills your kitchen. Or don’t imagine and just peep that after shot.
You will need:
– 2 lb campari tomatoes, or other similar-sized variety, about 18-22
– drizzle of olive oil
– 1/2 tsp allspice
– 1/4 tsp cumin
– 1/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
– 1/4 tsp salt
– couple of pinches of cardamom
– 7 oz muenster cheese, small diced
– 2 tbs parsley, finely chopped
– 1 tbs sesame seeds
– 1/2 tbs nigella seeds
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Core each tomato and take a sliver off the bottom of each one so that they sit up nicely when ready to roast. While you’re working on everything else, have them lined up on paper towels, upside down, so that any excess liquid is drained.
Meanwhile, put all spices in a small bowl and whisk them together. In another small bowl, add both seeds and whisk together.
In another bowl, toss your diced muenster cheese with parsley and a 1/2 tsp of the spices, reserving the rest for later use.
In a large bowl, drizzle a little olive oil onto the cored tomatoes and sprinkle the spices inside and outside of each one, gently tossing them to make sure they are each seasoned equally.
Stuff each tomato with the seasoned muenster cheese and place them in a cast iron skillet. You’ll want to see cheese peeking out of the tomatoes. When they melt, they get real snug into each one.
Top each tomato with a generous amount of seeds.
Roast for about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy your Sunday.
Do you love sweet and sour dishes? I didn’t til I sat at my love’s Syrian-Jew-But-Also-Italian table.
Traditionally made with apricots, I noticed how Dan’s mom, Lori, would also add an equal amount of prunes to her Yebra (stuffed grape leaves), which are smothered, gently, with a tamarind sauce. It’s a beautiful, vibrant-tasting dish. When I decided to challenge myself by making these for my love (or making these at all–I didn’t want to ruin a gorgeous recipe!) a light-bulb struck. Why not use another dried fruit that I adore?
Let me tell you. Eating this made me want to buy fresh figs and roast them in this sauce–which actually might be a recipe coming soon–but I digress.
Did I eat more figs than grape leaves? Probably. But mostly because I wanted their to be enough of the leaves themselves for Lori to try. When I told her I was making Yebra, I received a stream of expected texts, “did you rinse them first? Dry them? Did you soak the rice? Make sure you lay them vein-side up.” I didn’t have much time to reply (because..yes..I was doing all those things!) I have made these a few times with her and my confidence in the kitchen that morning sang through the window on the 5th floor of my mom’s tiny UES kitchen. Upon the first bite (I swear it!) my guy teared up. All I heard was “…babe.” And he then came at me for a bear hug and a hundred kisses. Next day, I received a text from Lori that said it tastes just like Aunt Sara’s. Which, BTW, is the ultimate compliment. For as long as I’ve sat at their table, Dan has always said “Please make it taste like Aunt Sara’s.” I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her, but here’s to you, Sara.
Stuffed Grape Leaves with Figs and Apricot in Tamarind Sauce
1 lb hashu, recipe follows
8 oz jar of grape leaves (about 30-36)
10 dried mission black figs
8 dried California apricots (do not use Turkish here)
juice of large lemon, plus more to taste
5-6 tbs tamarind concentrate
pinch of brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 cups water (plus more)
1. In a bowl, gently mix by hand all the ingredients and spices for hashu and set aside. *Set oven to 350 degrees unless you plan on cooking these babies on the stove from beginning to end.
2. Drain grape leaves, carefully taking them out of the jar. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the grape leaves, carefully turning them with tongs, for about a minute. Then quickly get them into a big bowl of ice water. Pour them over a colander and begin to dry each one, while cutting off their stems. Make sure you lay them vein-side up when done.
3. Take a heaping teaspoon of hashu (more or less, depending on the size of the leaf), and place the spoonful at it’s center closest to the stem. Fold in the sides and roll them semi-tightly.
4. In a dutch oven or pot, drizzle a little vegetable oil on the bottom and start arranging your stuffed grape leaves and dried fruit, creating about 2 or 3 layers of them, depending on how many grape leaves you were able to stuff. (Some come torn up in the jar). My pot ended up with only two layers–about 32 grape leaves.
5. On med-high heat, cover the pot and let steam for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make your sauce. In a medium bowl, add your lemon juice and tamarind. Whisk in about two cups of water and a pinch of brown sugar and salt. Pour over the grape leaves. Add another 2-3 cups of water so that it almost reaches the top layer of grape leaves, about 3 quarters of the way. A lot of the liquid will decrease as it cooks, and you’ll want some later. It’s the good stuff. You don’t want it soup-like, though.
6. Place a heat-friendly plate directly on top of the leaves to keep them from unraveling (or don’t. I didn’t. But if you’re making a lot it might be wise to.) Simmer up to 45 minutes on the stove or in the oven, covered. Spoon sauce over the top leaves occasionally. When some leaves have caramelized, turn them onto a platter and serve with all the things.
Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)
Yebra served with homemade Za’atar Flatbread.
And hummus topped with warm chickpeas that simmered in it’s own broth with toasted cumin seeds, then got tossed in an olive oil and lemon dressing, topped with za’atar and Aleppo pepper.
And a very fresh, colorful market haul salad made of very finely chopped parsley, red cabbage, scallions, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I suppose all that’s missing is the bulgar!? (There was bulgar, guys. But since it was so fine (I bought it to make kibbeh), it turned to mush.) Kitchen fails are welcomed here. This salad was beautiful and simply wanted to be without.
On the table, which is actually the gorgeous cheeseboard my guy got me years ago sitting atop a radiator by the windowsil (because good lighting!), is a precious tea towel Tory gave me recently. It has a Syrian recipe of anise bread printed throughout. I love it so!
I sent over a grape leaf question to Kathryn from Cardamom and Tea the other day, and she responded with absolute kindness. I might have an opportunity to learn how to forage for fresh leaves and I do hope to meet this amazing woman whose food speaks to my soul. Lori already said she’s coming with! A day out with new friends and family in spring sounds like just the thing.
“Let me make you guys a nice, Syrian dinner on Sunday” was really my way of saying, I need a day in the kitchen. An entire day, please and thank you. One beginning with an early morning trip with Lori to a couple of Middle Eastern markets where rose petals, olives, barrels of legumes, Syrian cheeses, jarred tamarind, freezers stocked with homemade kibbeh and sambousaks, still-warm jelly and custard donuts, are aplenty. (Y’all know I came out with allll the donuts. And cheese.)
It’s the first day of Hanukkah, guys, and I needed to do something I love for people I love, and I needed to slow everything down so I could enjoy every second of it. That includes hugging the wonderful woman who brought out her freshly made donuts. If I couldn’t do any of this, a meltdown in the very near future would occur LET. ME. TELL. YOU.
It’s been over two months since I shared something with you. I get up in the mornings to cook something quick for dinner, then run out to work. I get home at 9pm. I’ve been feeling a disconnect in my kitchen and will like to borrow yours on the weekends. Let me feed you!
Bizeh b’Jurah is Syrian rice with peas and meat. I made it a couple of years back on Rosh Hashanah after having seen the recipe in Lori’s copy of Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews. I LOVE THIS BOOK. It feels most family to me. Every month or so I crack it open for inspiration. This recipe is simple and hearty. It could be a side dish but it could also be a main. I made a few changes to the original recipe. Where she uses coriander seed, I use cumin. Where she uses water, I prefer a rich beef stock. At some point you’re supposed to create a paste with garlic and seed but I omit that part because I adore the wholeness of sliced garlic and seeds. For color and texture, grated carrot or shredded purple cabbage, a variety of fresh herbs and/or spring onions. I turn to the season for this one.
Bizeh b’Jurah, 6-8 servings
4-5 garlic cloves, sliced
olive oil, enough to coat pan
1 tbs tomato paste (optional)
1 pound flanken, cut in 2-inch cubes, seasoned with salt n pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon allspice (optional)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup long grain rice or basmati (rinsed)
1 cup of frozen peas
4 cups beef broth/stock (or water, or vegetable stock)
fresh herbs, chopped (any green that you love)
1/2 cup thinly sliced purple cabbage or grated carrot (optional)
In a medium saucepan, sear the flanken on both sides and set aside. Add a little more oil if needed, then add cumin seeds, garlic, and tomato paste if you’re using, saute for about a minute. Add meat back into the pan and pour the stock over it. Cover and simmer for about an hour and half, til tender.
Using a strainer to catch the meat, pour the liquid into a measuring cup. Measure out two cups of the broth because that is all you’ll need. Return the broth and meat into the pot and add the rice and peas, giving it a quick stir. Cover and let simmer til liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.
Toss in any herbs or crisp veggies you’d like, or leave as is! Chickpeas make a nice addition.
In keeping true to what I needed that day, I took my time with everything. I learned how to make Syrian stuffed grape leaves (Yebra) and enjoyed rinsing, drying, and trimming each small-to-enormous leaf. Adding meat and rice to each one and rolling them, sometimes sloppily, was fun. I eventually got the hang of it. In this recipe, also found in Aromas of Aleppo, you get a tanginess from lemons and tamarind (ou), and added sweetness from dried apricots and prunes.
Even tearing a part Syrian cheese was done slowly. I can eat a whole bowl of this (okay, I actually did eat a whole bowl of this.) I love the addition of nigella seeds.
I hope that we all take a moment to self-care this winter. I always find getting through the cold and all the holidays pretty difficult, but HEY, for Christmas and New Years I’ll be on the beach away from New York, and that is MAJOR self-care. If you can’t get away, please do something you love. Take your time in doing it. It’s that necessary.
If you’re anything like me, then you, too, got overly excited to see many of your favorite greenmarkets return, selling many of your springtime favorites.
This means you purchased everything (beets, radishes, asparagus, ramps, chives, thyme, rhubarb, tomatoes, lemons, the list goes on) for ONE MEAL. I did this for Mother’s Day. Mom deserves it all, amiright? Even fava beans! Which I walked to 4 stores to find them and took 20 minutes to shell them (worth it), just to make the Spring Pilaf she requested. The prep work itself was a meditation. I missed it.
But let’s just say not everything made it to the table. Yes, I slow roasted cherry tomatoes again, to accompany Branzino.
Yes, the Spring Pilaf was a thousand times Spring in taste AND color. (Always add shredded carrot, maybe shredded purple cabbage, and ALL the greens you can stand).
Yes, I threw baby potatoes, chunks of purple cabbage, ramps, asparagus, slices of lemon, chives into a cast iron and roasted it all with two, lightly seasoned branzinos right on top. But where the hell are my beets? My radishes!?
So two days later, this very simple, very earthy, very spring soup happened. Cooked gently in your favorite stock with thyme, ramps, ginger, garlic, and chives, it’s sunshine broth will make you feel good.
drizzle of coconut oil or olive oil
3-4 thyme sprigs
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch knob of ginger, grated
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 small golden beets, halved and sliced
5 radishes, halved and sliced
4 whole ramps
chives, finely chopped
In a heated pot with oil, add thyme, onion, garlic, and ginger. Sautee for a few minutes. Add your stock and bring to a light boil. Add beets and let it do its thing for about 20 minutes. Then add your radishes and ramps. Cook another 8 minutes. Add salt and pepper and any fresh herbs/greens you’d like. I used chives. I imagine dill would be beautiful here. Enjoy warm or even chilled!
I can’t wait for more spring cooking (and cleaning! and gardening!), though I have a feeling summer will arrive much sooner than scheduled. Hit your local market and/or farm ASAP! Let me know what you come home with <3 I’ll be trying this recipe again when my own variety of beets start growing. Or sooner!
When the new year arrived, I didn’t do the things I’d normally do, or the things I intended on doing. No lists. No thought-out resolution. In fact, while Danny and I were with his family waiting patiently for the countdown to reach midnight, like we always do! someone glanced at their phone and noticed it was thirty seconds past. We were watching a recording of the countdown happen. We all laughed, calling it a typical Frank Pizzarelli moment, but I do think it meant something.
We spent a lot of our time in New Paltz at his aunt’s beautiful home, nearby this castle. The day we were supposed to leave ended up being a snow day, one of my favorite days out of our vacation. After walking to the castle and working up an appetite, Dan and I made reservations at A Tavola Trattoria, an Italian farm-to-table that reminded me there’s a reason why Glasbern Inn’s farm food made me cry with pure joy: there is nothing better than a locally sourced meal. Nothing. There is nothing more passionate than how it is sourced, prepped, cooked, and delivered to the table. It’s all done lovingly; full of an awareness you can only get from such a place. And to share that with my best friend is beyond words. BTW: citrus-marinated olives, pickled watermelon rind arugula salad, charred brussels sprouts, and this crostini with house-made ricotta, rosemary salt, and truffle orange honey was a beautiful way to start this meal.
We weren’t charged for our cocktails (courtesy Aunt Donna and Uncle Richie, who called in from Florida to let them know two kids in love with food would be there), and they tasted of summer, garden days. Hints of cucumber, mint, house-made pineapple jam to be spooned into gin. Dan and I toasted to the year we were about to leave, and being hopeful about the one we were about to enter.
Donna recommended their Chicken Under a Brick and I can see why. Served with fingerling potatoes that were clearly roasted with the chicken, and charred escarole, we were in heaven. The lemon flavors popped. I was obsessed with the charred greens soaked in all that lemony goodness from the beautifully cooked chicken.
The town itself seemed as if it was tailored to my dream lifestyle and dream kitchen. There’s a Handmade shop that has beautiful wooden spoons, cheeseboards, handpainted pottery BRIE BOWLS, Y’ALL. I could cry just thinking about all the things I could’ve gotten, but didn’t, simply because I don’t have my own space to fill in such a way that is Me. But I will get there, of course. This year, I’m carving out the path that will get me closer to home.
In the meantime, we are hoping to return between our birthdays, just in time for strawberry season and spring blooms and spring menus. I’d love to visit the local farms, and spend the warmer months hiking. All we can think about is eating in New Paltz again. At this farm-to-table and their one-and-only Indian restaurant I wrote about in a previous recipe post.
Much gratitude to this beautiful family who I love making cheese platters for BTW. As soon as we arrived, Frank said, “you doing a cheese thing with some meat and maybe a tomatuh?”
One thing I know for sure for 2018–there will be plenty of cheese, bread, and jam. Strawberry jam from what we pick with our own hands in New Paltz. Fig jam for Aunt Donna, as a thank you for the warm stay but also an apology for devouring the fig jam she left in her fridge. There will also be way more bread and other baked goods.
I started reading from this recipe book I purchased from our trip when we got back, and that’s when I decided that I must begin the new year by strengthening my relationship to flour and the preservation of every season, with the intent of eating better and feeling better. I also need to drink way more water. Basically, I need to go back to basics. Take a tiny step back in order to move forward more fluidly.
The first thing I baked this month were these Orange Cardamom Crumb Muffins, inspired by a recipe in Toast & Jam.
I paired them with a fig and orange jam Lori bought me from New Paltz. It’s the most delicious thing EVER. The next day I toasted them, buttered them, added more jam and ate them with chunks of cheese. They are wholesome. My favorite thing about these muffins was watching my young niece work a bite of one in her mouth. She looked unsure. But then she said, more, after a brave gulpand I knew I made a worthy muffin.
When Spring returned to us in all its young green finery,
I wanted to eat it. To squeeze a little lime on it
in broad daylight and find my way, past
the beefsteak tomatoes,
standing strong on the sides of heirlooms,
the tall, bruised green of the earth.
The day before Easter, I grabbed the first asparagus of the season at my mom’s local farmers market and decided I was going to create a spring feast, highlighting these thick spears along with other bright and deep greens, such as peas, spring onions, cilantro, thyme, arugula. I wanted fava beans but I couldn’t find any. I stopped by my favorite kielbasa vendor and he handed me the cutest, smokiest ham I’ve ever held, and tasted. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it then, but knew I had to leave with it.
“You can use it as decoration for your Easter table,” he told me. I politely shook my head no. I can–and will–use it in everything throughout the week, beginning tomorrow. After tomorrow, then they’re going in omelets, slow-cooked beans, etc. But it was tomorrow I wasn’t exactly sure about.
Before bed, I cracked open my notebook and brainstormed dinner, which I’m doing more often these days before dinner parties. It relieves stress knowing that I’ve some idea as to what I want to accomplish the next day. I’m very used to just winging it. Once dinner is over, I return to the journal and jot down what I actually ended up doing, which helps me to better understand my kitchen-mind. Here’s how it stormed that night! I actually made everything on this, with some minor changes.
I’ve such a fondness for this time of year. Easter morning I ran some errands, grabbing the last of the ingredients that I needed to complete our dinner. It felt like the first, true warm day of the season and I was at peace. Outside the supermarket, an older woman asked me if I could walk her a few blocks to the bus. While I held her hand, we talked about family dinners. She’d cook for a family of 10. She’d make 3 different salads, 2 different cakes, she’d roast a fish and a chicken and sometimes, on special occasions, would make brisket. She had zero help because she never asked, and she thought it was beautiful I was going to spend the day in the kitchen with my mother making a meal for a family of 7. There was so much we agreed on in those three blocks: we love the farmers market, springtime awakens a hunger for healthier things, and food is love.
When I returned to mom’s kitchen, I moved around with such light feet. What I ended up doing with the greens I have since done often.
I am calling this a Spring Pilaf and rice will never be boring to me again. You can add anything you want to it. It can be made fresh, or made with leftovers. This one is smoky due to the ham I purchased from the market, and the shredded carrots truly makes this a festive-looking dish. I used jasmine but now only use basmati.
After I made this one, I started toying with the recipe and included seasonings I love most.
Here’s my Indian-Spiced Spring Pilaf.
1/2 cup Basmati, cooked with a pinch of turmeric and salt, butter.
I like more veggies than rice so eyeball amounts according to your preference. I used green beans and asparagus, corn, sliced mushrooms, a small red onion, 3 garlic cloves, grated carrot (towards the end), quickly stir fried in cumin seeds & powder, garam masala, 4 cardamom pods (cracked open a bit), fresh herbs such as cilantro and thyme, pepper and salt to taste. Use whatever herbs you love!
I made this again for Valerie’s Poetry & Coffee BBQ yesterday, just because I want to feed people as much of spring as they can get. And then they’ll have to deal with my summer pilaf shenanigans.
A few days ago I went with my love to the Queens County Farm and saw rows of asparagus shooting from the earth. It was a beautiful sight, how they stood, perfectly, like soldiers we hold in our hearts today, every day.